Scrum Master Certificate. Which one should you choose?

Scrum adoption is increasing fast and organisations are looking for Scrum qualified personnel. One way to show your worth is with a recognised Scrum Master certificate. In this article, I compare the two main options to help you decide which one is for you.

Update: 24 Jan 2014

Since this article was published, I completed both the Professional Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Master courses. I then went on to become a Professional Scrum Trainer with Scrum.org. Having checked the article, I think it remains valid but thought it prudent to disclose my current status as a trainer with Scrum.org.

Why get a Scrum Master certificate?

I’ve been involved with agile and Scrum for over 12 years and in that time, I’ve never needed any formal qualifications. I’ve successfully moved from post to post and plied my craft. Recently though, I discovered that potential employers were asking for Scrum skills.

In March 2012, I searched cwjobs and discovered that 10% of web developer vacancies required knowledge of Scrum. That’s a massive change from when I performed my first agile installation in 2000. Back then agile and Scrum were still considered cutting edge!

So, the message is clear. To give yourself the best chance of securing a new job, or contract, get a Scrum Master certificate.  That was the easy part. I then spent the best part of a month researching the options. This article condenses what I learned and I hope that it will prove useful to you.

Scrum Master Certificates

There are two well known, and generally accepted, Scrum Master certificate routes available.

  • Certified Scrum Master (CSM) with the Scrum Alliance
  • Professional Scrum Master (PSM) with Scrum.org

This article addresses these two certificates only. Note there are two other certificates you may wish to consider:

  • PMI_ACP. The Project Management Institute Agile Certified Practitioner. Offered by the Project Management Institute
  • CIP. Certified ICAgile Professional. Offered by the International Consortium for Agile.

I may cover these in separate articles.

Certified Scrum Master (CSM). Offered by the Scrum Alliance

CSM Seal

The best known Scrum Master certificate is the Certified Scrum Master (CSM). The certificate was originally issued by Ken Schwaber in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, Ken went on to form the Scrum Alliance asking Esther Derby and Mike Cohn to join him. The Scrum Alliance then continued delivering courses and, as at 31 Dec 2011, over 150k certificates had been issued.

Prior to 2012, anyone attending an official Scrum Alliance course automatically received the CSM certificate. There was no assessment or examination. There are currently 125,286 certificates in existence, making it the most widely issued. A combination of longevity and number of certificates issued means that the CSM certificate is the most widely recognised.

However, there has been criticism that simply attending courses does not justify the issue of a certificate. The Scrum Alliance have accepted this and changed the certification process in the early part of 2012. Candidates are now required to go through a three stage process to earn the CSM certificate:

1. Familiarize themselves with Scrum basics.

2. Attend a CSM course.

3. Obtain their CSM certification after completing the course and taking the CSM evaluation (a link to the evaluation is available on their dashboard following their course).

At time of writing (March 2012), the average cost of a Certified Scrum Master course in the USA is between $850 and $1200. You can pay up to $1300 for better known presenters like Mike Cohn.  In the UK, expect to pay between £895 and £1095 and up to £1400 for better known presenters. The lower prices are usually achieved by taking advantage of early booking discounts.

Certified Scrum Master courses can only be taught by Certified Scrum Trainers. Each trainer develops their own training material, which is approved by the Scrum Alliance. However, with no two trainers presenting the same material, there may be issues with consistency.

With a nod to the Project Management Institute, a CSM course will earn Professional Development Units (PDUs). The number of PDUs earned varies and candidates are referred to their Certified Scrum Trainer to see how many PDUs their course earns. The average appears to be between 14 and 21 PDUs for taking the CSM course. Try this link for more information on PDUs.

To maintain currency, a CSM certificate must be renewed every two years, at a cost of $100.

Professional Scrum Master – PSM – Offered by Scrum.org

PSM Seal

In 2009, a split developed between Ken Schwaber and the Scrum Alliance.  Ken went on to create Scrum.org and offer the Professional Scrum Master course, among others.

Scrum.org offer two certificates: The Professional Scrum Master I course and the Professional Scrum Master II course. PSM I and PSM II respectively. PSM I indicates a basic level of understanding and PSM II indicates an intermediate level of understanding. To date, Scrum.org have issued 6000 PSM I certificates and 111 PSM II certificates.

Both PSM I and PSM II certificates are earned by the candidate scoring 85% or more in an online assessment. Neither assessment requires that the candidate attends a course. The cost of the PSM I assessment is $100.  The cost of the PSM II assessment is $500.

Research indicates that course attendance is mandatory if the candidate wishes to pass the PSM II assessment. However, if you take an authorised course, the cost of the PSM I assessment is included and the cost of the PSM II assessment is reduced to $300

Only one training course is available, the Professional Scrum Master course. Delivered by Professional Scrum Trainers, the cost varies between $1295 and $1995 in the USA and £950 and £1095 in the UK.  You may pay more for a course delivered by better known presenters like Ken Schwaber. Lower prices are usually achieved via early booking discounts.

Professional Scrum Master courses are taught by Professional Scrum Trainers who all work from a common set of training materials. Attendance at a training course is not required to take a PSM assessment, A PSM I certificate can be earned through appropriate study and revision. I’ve covered exactly how to do this in my article, How to Pass the PSM I Assessment.

With a further nod to the Project Management Institute, attending a PSM course will earn the candidate 14 PDUs. Try this link for more information on PDUs.

Summary

1. The Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certificate is more widely recognised than the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certificate.
2. The cost of acquiring, and maintaining, the CSM certificate is considerably more than acquiring a PSM certificate (there are no maintenance costs for the PSM certificate).
3. The cost of PSM training is (on average) greater than the cost of CSM training. This seems to affect the USA only. Costs in Europe are roughly equal.
4. The value of CSM certificates issued prior to 2012 is variable as the delegate was not required to pass an assessment.
5. The material presented at CSM courses varies depending on the instructor. PSM course material is standardised.

This table summarises the main points:

Scrum Alliance Scrum.org
Certificate CSM PSM I PSM II
Certificates Issued 125285 6000 111
Mandatory Pre-requisites Training course None PSM I Pass (85%+)
Training course required? Yes No No
Training course cost $850 – $1300 $1295 – $1995 $1295 – $1995
Assessment required Yes (since 2012) Yes Yes
Assessment cost $0 (incl in course) $100 (or $0 if you do course) $500 (or $300 if you do course)
Renewal required Yes No No
Cost to acquire certificate $850 – $1300 $100 $500
Cost to renew certificate $100 (2 yearly) $0 $0

 

Professional Scrum Master training course

After doing the research, I opted to self-study and then sit the PSM I assessment.  This was successful and I wrote an article on how you too can pass your Professional Scrum Master (PSM) assessment.

Later, I went on to complete the Professional Scrum Master course and earn the PSM II certificate. I wrote an article on how to prepare for the PSM II assessment. If you’d like to earn your PSM II certificate, check out my Professional Scrum training course schedule to see upcoming courses. I hope to see you there!

Comments

  1. Chandra says

    Thats a very detailed assessment. Thanks a lot. Looks like CSM is more expensive. I will prepare for PSM I and will go from there. Thanks Derek.

  2. Pankaj Sharma says

    Thanks for the sublime information. Even a layman can decide which way to go… Thanks a lot for the valuable information.

  3. Anand says

    Hi Derek,

    Great research and really very helpful. Thanks for your good work helping SCRUMers in the right path. Keep it up.

  4. says

    Thanks for adequate details on CSM and PSM. I thought to write PSM I & II but looks like i don’t need it since i’m already SM Certified.

    What’s your thoughts on PMP-ACP, would it bring any additional value to CSM certified professional? As far as my understanding, PMP-ACP is specific to agile and not any one form of agile such as scrum, etc. rather it touches every process of ALM.

    – Dave

    • Derek says

      Hi Dave

      I think taking the PSM II and/or the CSP would be a good move. I have written an article on taking the CSP examination and hope to do the same for the PSM II exam as well. Briefly, a Scrum Master certificate signifies that you have understood the basic requirements of Scrum. Companies looking to hire Scrum Masters often look for a higher level of achievement and a CSP / PSM II does exactly that.

      I have not examined the PMP-ACP assessment in detail yet. At present, I have contrasting views. Firstly, project management practices (ie: the PMP element) and scrum / agile practices (ie: the ACP element) approach managing software projects in entirely different ways. It seems odd to have a Project Management authority certifying an Agile approach. Secondly though, I think that broadening an Agile approach to encompass a requirement to understand Agile software terminology is an excellent idea and one I endorse.

  5. Jacqueline says

    Hi Derek,
    Thanks for a detailed assessment. This is what I was looking for.
    I also found out that [Scrum training organization] offers scrum certification. Is that a recognized scrum certification?

    (nb: Edited by site admin to remove link to site)

    • Derek says

      Hi Jacqueline

      I hadn’t heard of that organization until you mentioned them and, on reflection, that could be the most damning thing I could say about them.

      For a certificate to be worth anything, it has to be recognized. For example, you and I could go and buy a Doctorate on the Internet tomorrow from an unknown, or non-existent organisation but, what would it be worth? Compare that with earning a PhD from somewhere like Oxford which is recognized the World over.

      The comparison, while extreme, serves to underline the point.

      • Jacqueline says

        Thanks a lot for your comment. I completely agree with you.
        I have practiced scrum in my previous organization 2 years back , I was scrum developer in the team. And for 2 years now, I haven’t followed Agile methodologies.
        I am looking for a job change as a scrum master and thinking of giving CSM. I see a lot of job openings for certified scrum masters. Will the certification help me in changing my career as a scrum master?
        What would be your advice for someone who is looking for a job change as a scrum professional?

        • Derek says

          I think that’s a good idea. Here in the UK, recruiters often ask for CSM at a minimum. In any case, doing a Scrum course will get you back up to speed quickly.

          If you’re not in the UK, I’d suggest scanning through the job ads for ScrumMasters in your area and see what qualifications are required.

          Good luck.

  6. Derek says

    Hi Derek,

    Thanks for the crisp information.

    I also wanted to know how good is this certification body “GAQM – Global Association for Quality Management” – Heard of them? How good are these folks? Recognised?

    I am based out of India – hows the scope? Any advices here related to scrum and its adoption across the service based firms ?

    Thanks,
    Nishanth T

    • Derek says

      Hi Nishanth

      I readily admit that I haven’t heard of GAQM. In my experience, Scrum adoption is on the increase worldwide.

      Hope that helps.

    • Marry Dcosta says

      You can go ahead with Certified Scrum Master (CSM) from [Redacted], my company has approved CSM from either [Redacted].

      • admin says

        You have sent me four comments under three different pseudonyms from the same IP address. Please don’t pervert the intent of the article by attempting to promote yourself.

  7. Priya says

    Hi Derek,

    Is the [certificate title] by the [certifying authority] the same as CSM? I mean can I say I am ‘CSM’ if I pass this exam?

    Thanks,
    Priya

    nb: Editied by Admin to remove names of certificate and certifying authority

    • admin says

      Hi Priya

      No, I’m afraid not. Only the Scrum Alliance can issue Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certificates.

  8. vikram says

    hi Derek,

    very informative post. I would like to know how many pdus you applied and earned for psm1 certification.

    Thanks,
    Vikram

  9. Leonardo says

    Hi Derek, thank you for this good post, very illustrative.

    I’ve a question about becoming a Professional Scrum Trainer. When you obtain that certification you can offer courses or do you need permission from Scrum.org?

    Thanks in advance

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